Kansas Republicans want to replicate this news outlet’s success. Please, go right ahead.

June 7, 2023 3:33 am

Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, said that "we could surely have a Republican Reflector." Opinion editor Clay Wirestone says that would be welcome. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Republicans have been saying they want a Kansas Reflector of their very own. Be it online, in print, or broadcast via radio and television, they want a news source that makes their case to the people of our state.

“We need to develop our own sources,” said state Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, in audio obtained by Kansas Reflector from his May 23 appearance at Buhler High School. “You know, we could surely have a Republican Reflector. We could have our own TV stations. We’ve got people with money. We’ve got people with the know-how to do that. We’ve got to develop a plan and go make it happen.”

His words echoed those of former Gov. Sam Brownback, who told the Wichita Eagle in September that “we need a Fox News in Kansas that’s an actual conservative — and like Fox or more conservative, but they can broadcast the local news in this state.”

Good luck, guys. I wish you all the best of luck, and I hope you’re successful.

According to a report last year from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, a staggering 70 million people across the United States live in a county without a single newspaper. More broadly, 1,630 counties only have one local paper, which usually struggles to cover a wide geographical area. In Kansas, the most recent data shows that one county has no local newspaper, while 58 0f 105 have only one paper.

Now, these numbers only scratch the surface. Kansas and other states have seen digital startups, and local communities often turn to social media and other communications methods. Yet anyone who cares to look can see the need. If Republican politicians want to help improve the situation, they should be encouraged to do so.

I would also hope that any startups follow the example set by Kansas Reflector in terms of accuracy and transparency. I would hope such an organization lists its donors and posts its tax returns, like Kansas Reflector parent States Newsroom. I would hope it hires professional journalists with decades of experience in the field and in the state. I would hope it reports the news from Topeka without fear or favor, asking tough questions of those in power. And I would hope its opinion pieces are grounded in rigorous analysis and deep reporting.

I think the Republican leaders would end up with a news source that is very similar — if not identical — to Kansas Reflector. And we would welcome another outlet that shares our mission of serving the people of Kansas.


Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says Kansas conservatives should buy a TV station that would use the term "pro-life forces" instead of "anti-abortion forces."
Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says Kansas conservatives should buy a TV station that would use the term “pro-life forces” instead of “anti-abortion forces.” (Screenshot by Kansas Reflector of U.S. State Department briefing)

‘There to make money’

While Steffen and Brownback should by all means call up rich donors to found more media outlets, their other critiques of the field suggested that neither man has spent much time thinking about or researching journalism.

In his Buhler High School remarks, for instance, Steffen uncorked this startling statement: “The media is, they’re really there for one reason and one reason only. They’re there to make money. They’re not there to help you. They’re not there to help me. They’re there to make money. So, you know, in a lot of ways I try not to interact with the media much, particularly the the mainstream media, because I don’t want to make them money.”

Steffen should find some journalist quickly and ask what he or she earns. Rest assured: This field doesn’t make money for anyone. Kansas Reflector, for instance, functions as a nonprofit. Other outlets do run as businesses, but most of those work diligently to keep the lights on and their staff paid on time.

As for Brownback, he zeroed in on the language used in news reports.

“Something else I think we’ve just got to do is hope a group of conservatives can come in somewhere and buy a major TV station in the state — in Wichita, Topeka, Kansas City — to start getting out the news; instead of calling it the ‘anti-abortion forces,’ call them the ‘pro-life forces,’ ” he said in the story from Eagle reporter Chance Swaim.

Brownback seems not to understand the difference between a hard-hitting news organization with an outspoken commentary section and a propaganda mouthpiece.

The mistake both of these politicians make is in looking at the news media as a partisan actor. As a nonpartisan nonprofit, Kansas Reflector’s only interest and sole obligation is in serving the people of our state — not the fortunes of one political party or another.

While my own writing on the opinion page may come from a progressive perspective, it is also nonpartisan. I have praised and criticized Democrats, and I have praised and criticized Republicans. Our contributors in the section have done the same. This is the whole point of an independent press — to function as a voice outside of the political fray.

This is also why readers trust us. Any similar effort in the state will need to also value its independence.


Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins reads a rules book during the last scheduled day of the legislative session, April 6, 2023. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins reads a rules book during the last scheduled day of the legislative session, April 6, 2023. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

‘Press doesn’t say that’

House Speaker Dan Hawkins joined his Republican colleagues in news media commentary over the weekend. At an Americans for Prosperity picnic in Johnson County, he unspooled rhetoric that veered from the nonsensical to sinister. Any media startups would be wise to avoid his example.

“Isn’t it ironic, and this is something the Reflector needs to write down,” Hawkins said, acknowledging reporter Tim Carpenter.”Isn’t it ironic that the Kelly-Toland administration, who spent their whole time talking about ax the tax, actually end up axing the tax relief to you all? Every single person that pays taxes in this state got their tax relief axed by the Kelly-Toland administration. I’m going to keep going around the state saying that, because that is a fact, and they don’t say it. Press doesn’t say that. Not once has the press written about that.”

As a speaker of the House and leader of a supermajority, Hawkins should spare us the sob story. It almost sounds like he wants to be liked by the news media he singles out for criticism.

He’s also telling an outright untruth.

The press reported about Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the Legislature’s tax package. Here’s a story from Kansas Reflector. Here’s a story from the Topeka Capital-Journal. Here’s a story from the Kansas City Star. Every one of these stories mentioned multiple components of the bill.

Unfortunately, Hawkins hadn’t finished with his deep thoughts on the news media. Later in his remarks he used the word “evil” when referring to the press. That’s unacceptable language for any elected official, much less a chamber leader.

Describing journalists and their work as “evil” dehumanizes important contributors to our democracy. It is othering. It is the kind of rhetoric that leads to politicians crossing red lines that have protected our shared freedom of speech. It is the kind of rhetoric that fuels dangerous extremism.

For the record, I don’t believe that any political leader in Kansas is evil. Mistaken? Perhaps. Misguided? Perhaps. Making decisions that could harm their fellow Kansans and their families? Perhaps. But I have always understood the difference between criticizing someone’s actions or what policies they support and saying that they are fundamentally good or bad. Other journalists and political commentators in this state understand the same.

Hopefully the Republican Reflector’s staff will understand that, too.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.